Originally published on Common Dreams.
Remember the slogan, “the personal is political”? International Women’s Day, March 8, is a great time to revive it.
Today, it’s regressive fundamentalists, not progressives, who are more comfortable talking about the personal as political. They, not progressives, dominate the debate over “private” life and “family values.”
Yet family relations directly influence what people consider normal and moral in all relations — public as well as private. We must challenge the reactionary, increasingly fundamentalist “traditional family values” agenda. We cannot build a healthy democracy on a foundation of authoritarianism and intolerance — in the home and outside it.
Family relations affect how people think and act. They affect how people vote and govern, and whether the policies they support are just and genuinely democratic or violent and oppressive.
Slogans like “traditional values” often mask a family “morality” suited to undemocratic, rigidly male-dominated, chronically violent cultures. They market a “traditional family” where women are subordinate and economically dependent, where fathers make the rules and severely punish disobedience — the kind of family that prepares people to defer to “strong” leaders who brook no dissent and use force to impose their will.
How can we expect people raised in authoritarian families — where men are ranked over women and children learn that any questioning of belief and authority will be punished — to vote for leaders whose policies promote justice, equality, democracy, mutual respect and nonviolence?
It’s not coincidental that for regressive fundamentalists — whether Christian, Hindu, Jewish or Muslim — the only moral family is one that models top-down rankings of domination ultimately backed up by fear and force. It’s not coincidental that the 9/11 terrorists came from families where women and children are terrorized into submission.
To build cultures of justice, safety and real democracy, we need families where women and men are equal partners, where children learn to help and persuade rather than hurt and coerce, where violence is not modeled, and where children are encouraged to think for themselves.
The World Health Organization reports that every year 40 million children under age 15 are victims of family abuse or neglect serious enough to require medical attention. Sexual abuse and rape are also rampant. Here in the United States, a woman is battered, usually by her spouse or boyfriend, every 15 seconds.
Every progressive movement has challenged traditions of domination and violence once justified on moral grounds — from the biblical condoning of massacres and slavery to the “divine right” of kings to rule their “subjects” and the “divine right” of “superior” races to rule “inferior” ones.
Traditions of domination and violence in family and sexual relations perpetuated under the guise of religious morality are the major holdout. They must be recognized — and changed — worldwide.
Progressives cannot retreat on moral values and emotionally charged issues such as abortion and homosexual rights. We need a progressive pro-family agenda that is in line with the core teachings of all religions: caring, empathy and responsibility rather than coercion, intolerance and violence.
This is not a pipe dream. The Nordic nations, for example, have prosperous economies, with longer life spans and much lower crime rates than the United States. Women and men are more equal partners and policies such as universal health care and paid parental leave foster family and societal health.
In the United States, pro-family, pro-child, pro-woman, pro-democracy policies would:
Enumerate rights for all children — the right to shelter, nutrition and health care, a clean environment, and freedom from violence.
Promote equality for women and for all families, whether parented by a man and woman, a single parent, or two parents of the same gender.
Support families with policies such as paid parental leave, high quality childcare, and preschool for all children.
Protect reproductive freedom and show that the best way to prevent abortions is to provide family planning and sex education, as do other nations with much lower abortion rates.
Provide education for healthy, nonviolent family relations and parenting for both boys and girls.
Promote real educational reform through small classrooms and small schools where every child has individual support and attention.
We can’t expect to build societies respecting human rights and democracy when millions of people grow up in authoritarian families that routinely violate human rights.
This isn’t a question of Democrats versus Republicans. It’s about promoting values that truly help us make our society safe, prosperous, just, and equal.